“Sneak out,” I heard through the tiny speaker on my flip-phone. One of the older, junior class boys was on the other line.
“I don’t know if I should,” I said, referring to both sneaking out and the fact that I was talking about it in the kitchen with my parents in the other room. “You live kind of far for me to be walking by myself.”
“I’ll come get you and walk you home after.”
“Okay,” I said, my pulse racing a little bit. “After my parents go to bed.”
This was not about the boy on the other end – I had no attraction to him nor did he have any towards me. This was more about my freshman, 14-year-old self that wanted to fit in, to rebel, to shed any image that might make me look innocent to my older classmates.
It wasn’t hard – my house is big enough that I could slip out the back door without so much as a peep. No creaky floorboards or echoing footsteps; rather, as I walked quickly up the street I was a little disappointed. It was too easy.
The bright blue screen on my phone lit up with his name. He hadn’t even left his house yet.
“I’ll meet you half way.”
“Okay…” I say, slightly aggravated and slightly scared.
I walk past the church at the top of my street, past the family-owned deli that had long closed and a few blocks to where he said he’d meet me. He wasn’t there. I called him in a panic.
“Where are you?”
“Relax. I’m almost there.”
After a long ten minutes of mentally scolding myself as I stood by myself under a streetlight, I see him show up. “Let’s go.” I noted the coldness in his voice and realized all at once that this was not worth it.
I knew he was always like this, I was pretty good friends with him and I was in no eminent danger, but still; if I was going to risk getting grounded for the rest of my life, I would hope it would be with someone nice.
We walked back to his house where we sat on his couch for 10 minutes before he declared we needed to walk to his friend’s house to “get something.” After looking at the tiny bag that was quickly passed from his friend to him, I knew I was way out of my league here.
He shows me the bag and smiles.
“I thought it would look different,” I said.
“Colorful or something.”
“No, you see the colors after,” he laughed. “Want to?”
“I don’t think so, I think I’m just going to go home.”
“I just walked to your house to get you, though!” he protested.
“You half walked to my house,” I corrected him. “Anyway, I’m just going to go.”
“Well, I’m not walking you back now, you just got here.”
“That’s fine,” I said, hastily, knowing that this kid would never be worth another ounce of my time.
I made the trek back to my house thinking about the deep, quiet things that only turn up in your mind when you are walking home alone in the dark. I realized there was a rebellious streak in me that could get me in trouble someday, maybe already did.
Walking by the church at the top of my street, I see a boy propped up against the arched doorway of the cathedral, dressed in baggy black pants and smoking a cigarette. I keep walking for a half a block and then turn around. I know in my head that this is wrong, that a boy a few years older than me smoking a cigarette on the church steps at 2 a.m. is definitely sure sign of Stranger Danger! but I commence anyway.
After an introduction of myself I ask him what he’s doing there, anyway. He explains that he lives across the street in a house with about 10 other kids that were kicked out of their houses. He said that one of their moms took them all in, but is never around, and they all take turns sleeping on the beds or the floors or wherever they could find space. They partied a lot and he just got sick of it, so he came to sit by the church sometimes, just to get away from it. He said it had been months since he’d seen his parents or his home.
I walked away wondering if I’d ever see him again and knowing in my heart that if I did see him, it would only mean that I was definitely somewhere I didn’t belong – like on a dark street at 2 a.m. by myself. I get home just in time to hide behind a bush while I see my sister turn off her bedroom light. A second earlier and I would’ve run into her as she came home from her late shift at the bar. A minute earlier, and I would have been grounded for life.
I thanked God that I didn’t get grounded. Although I may have deserved it, I already learned my lesson about where I did and didn’t belong after midnight. I realized the type of people I didn’t belong with – the ones with the tiny bags of illegal substances and the ones that hang out in church doorways late at night. I thanked God that I wasn’t one of those kids in that house with no parents, just partying and smoking cigarettes, entirely on their own at too young of an age. Something would always separate my world from theirs; I had parents that cared enough to ground me — they didn’t.
Lastly, I thanked my parents for giving me a conscious to what is right and what is wrong, because ultimately, as you grow older, you might think you’re calling the shots but it’s really something built within you. It’s how you are raised. There was a reason why I crossed the line that night and quickly turned around. I was curious, like any 14-year-old would be, but somewhere deep inside I knew my curiosity had to stop somewhere. There were limits wired into my brain with every tiny ounce of discipline my parents put forth.
I wonder about that night sometimes – if things had turned out differently would I have taken a different path? If there was no tiny bag, if he showed up on time, if there was no homeless boy on the steps, would I felt more comfortable sneaking out? Would I have gotten the wake up call I needed?
Throughout the rest of my teen years and my young adult life I would first grow to resent my morals and then learn to be thankful for it. Rather, it was more of a resent-them-at-the-time kind of thing and a sigh-with-relief-later kind of thing. Either way, I never wound up living in a parent-less house with 10 other kids at the ripe age of 16 – so there’s something to be said about being raised on this side of the tracks.